Newfoundland's T'railway Provincial Park

Newfoundland's T'railway Provincial Park
Located at the northernmost tip of North America, Newfoundland offers a vision of barren beauty that attracts half a million tourists each year. And after finding out the big island also has a 550-mile railway trail system that's open to motorcyclists, we couldn't possibly resist the lure of traveling there, either.

When our ferry arrives in Port Aux Basques all we see are a few houses and, yes, lots of barren rock. The ocean ride only took seven hours from mainland Canada, but it seems as though we've traveled much farther  -  the difference is so stark  -  and the feeling of remoteness is startling. The mouth of the ferry spits us out into the cool sea air. Small wooden houses, tucked between the water and brown slopes, are built low to better weather the fierce storms that roll in from Greenland. Very few people are to be seen. Some fishing boats are rocking in the waves.

Ramona and I have chosen to explore this unique place in a special way. The sixteenth-largest island in the world offers us an exciting route across the island  -  an abandoned railway line. It traverses 550 miles of nature only occasionally interrupted by small villages and towns.

Coastal relics: a rusted anchor and sun-bleached whalebones.

Construction of the railway on this island Canadians call The Rock began in 1881, and the last train ran 107 years later. Afterward, the tracks were torn out and sold, with 130 bridges left spanning the wild rivers. Many have been fixed up with new wooden planks, and now the entire route is maintained as the T'railway Provincial Park, founded in 1997.

The start of the trail is hard to spot. You'll know you're in the right place when you come upon an orange railway snowplow pointing north. And soon we're out of town with the trail unfolding all its beauty. The embankment cuts across some pitch-black lakes. Only water to the left and right of us and no guardrail: nothing to stop a wet encounter, nothing to obstruct the great view. Our spirits are high, buoyed by the unique feeling of virtually riding on the water; but after sailing along on quite a few miles of straight railway line my euphoric mood suddenly alters in the first corner. Deep sand blown over from a dune calls for some very rapid deceleration, and I need some luck to keep my wildly lurching bike upright. Eighty yards on, nothing's happened  -  the fright is over and we're back on firm gravel.

Fishing boats at harborage in St. John's.

The railway then swings up on top of cliffs offering great views over the dark blue ocean to the left. Icebergs sometimes float by in this area. In St. Andrew's we turn inland, and the barren coastal landscape is replaced by deep fir forest. On this stretch, the Transcanada Highway runs more or less parallel to us. After wandering through this ocean of trees, we hit the coast again and scoot over  St. George's Bay at Stephenville Crossing.